I fucking hate dolls.
I especially hate dolls that mock me when all I’m trying to do is sew together the pieces of their fractured lives. It’s why I canceled that pre-pandemic trip to Florida
to visit Robert the Doll
. He probably wouldn’t have let me take a photo with him anyway. Fucking dolls.
What do dolls have to do with Resident Evil Village
? Well, it’s when we move on from fan-favourite, Lady Dimitrescu
and her castle, and into the game proper (featuring dolls), that Village steps more confidently out from under Resident Evil 4
’s shadows and walks on its own two feet. Not to suggest your rendezvous with the Lady of the Castle isn’t one to savour, or even tremble at, it’s just that most of the released media and tone for Village has been centred around her and a bit of the village, but what they wholly amount for in the full product is essentially tutorial content, at best.
"The size helps (natch), but the AI upscaling feature is one of the most underrated here, and it’s reason enough to future-proof when you consider it upscales the present...”
Moving beyond the castle though, what we learn quickly is that in keeping with the game’s storybook introduction, Village is very much a moving picture from a dark fairytale; a twisted version of worlds we *think* we know, but can't ever really relate to. And it plays as much like that, too. But this causes some pain in the "getting to grasp" realm of buy-in and I feel at odds even writing this, but that's because Resident Evil Village is a context-heavy nightmare, that has little-to-(k)no(w) context… yeah, okay, just umm… let me explain.
, the protagonist from Resident Evil VII
, along with his wife Mia
, and baby daughter, Rose
, now live *somewhere* in Europe
. This is all to move on from the life-altering events of the previous game (and you can watch a catch-up on all of this, too). Solid so far. The game eases you into a cannibal-free lifestyle and it all seems like it might be too good to be true. Which it is (natch).
"You stumble across a beat-up old shack that has just seen some seriously unnerving action, and you muster up the courage to pass the game’s first tension test, which in light of a much, much longer jaunt through it all, is a walk in a sunny park by comparison...”
Boom-crash, opera. Next thing we know we’re escaping from being kidnapped from an overturned van (shades of The Evil Within
lurk throughout) in the black of night, knee-deep in snow. Heavy breathing, grunts and moans fill the black void beyond your less-than-one-metre cone of vision, and you know from here on out nothing is going to be easy. You stumble across a beat-up old shack that has just seen some seriously unnerving action, and you muster up the courage to pass the game’s first tension test, which in light of a much, much longer jaunt through it all, is a walk in a sunny park by comparison to what lies ahead. Soon the sun rises and you find yourself in a weird village that, it's quickly revealed, has been overrun by werezombies, or something, and all of this is fleetingly tied to the abduction of your daughter by Chris Redfield
with some sort of involvement from Umbrella
And vampires. There’s vampires too.
I mean, if you were to try and work out every Resident Evil timeline, experimental thread, underhanded deal, double-cross, good intentions gone wrong fallout, ammo and specialist locksmith shortage, et al, presented throughout the series’ 25 year life, you’d hate dolls too. But with Resi Village, it feels like the reach and stretch of the series’ fantastical steroid boosts where suspension of disbelief is concerned, has gone up maybe one too many notches. It’s not all bad, nor is it a difficult
stretch to come to terms with, but Village, at times, feels like it could actually have been its own game. Dead Rising
managed to be a different zombie IP under the same roof as Resident Evil, after all, and with keeping that in mind here, know at least that while played out in a pacing-correct Resi crawl, Village is definitely a new kind of beast.
So, what’s familiar?
"Moving through the eventually empty village to finally explore just reveals a stack of gated pathways you need to gradually unlock as you progress through the game’s heavily handheld intro sequence...”
I mentioned Resident Evil 4 earlier, and its influence is massive here. (That game also took us beyond zombies, and look how it turned out, so… .) Your first encounter with the new enemies is no different to Leon’s of the Ganados, which is a “survive until you trigger” affair of challenge (in that there really isn’t any). While moving through the eventually empty village to finally explore just reveals a stack of gated pathways you need to gradually unlock as you progress through the game’s heavily handheld intro sequence. You can move items to block off doorways and openings, or vault through them yourself. From a level-design perspective, Village is soundly crafted and when you get past the castle and back into the village (read: hub) proper with more janitorial keys to clean up previously locked spaces, you can really begin to appreciate it for what it is -- an enticing narrative tease for what was before, and what’s to come, in equal measure.
In many ways, this is one of the first in the series to be able to fully expose game-world environments as storytelling beats. In Village you get a real sense of a world unlike any other ever crafted in the series, but one that has existed for a long time and with a history that is baked cleverly into peripheral, non-essential POIs riddled throughout. It really is a masterclass in environmental storytelling. And this is amplified with mood and tone, which sidles up against the game’s overall pacing nicely.
"Selling Supplies (health, ammo, lockpicks, etc), Weapon Upgrades and home cooked meals such as a piping hot plate of Tochitura de Pui, which rewards you with a permanent increase to your health...”
Other similarities come in the form of The Duke
who knows far more than he lets on early, and really is integral to all affairs that play out before you, and those still to come. He offers up services in the same vein as The Merchant
from Resident Evil 4, selling Supplies (health, ammo, lockpicks, etc), Weapon Upgrades and home cooked meals such as a piping hot plate of Tochitura de Pui, which rewards you with a permanent increase to your health. He’ll buy treasures off you, most of which exist in the environment to be discovered, or as enemy loot drops. Some are one-offs and others are bits and pieces of another whole you need to put back together for higher monetary reward (Lei). This economic subsystem of the game was perfected in RE4, and that perfection is replicated here in spades. In fact, so much so, I found myself spending more time exploring the game-world for treasures than for advancing the story in the early throes of my time with it.
But remember that context thing earlier, it’s in exploration and interaction it rears its head in ugly ways. Some items are breakable, most aren’t. This has a two-prong negative -- one being that you know immediately that you’re in store for loot if you see most breakable items (breaking exploratory illusion and investment), and two, because it showcases just how much of the game’s stunning sheen is smoke and mirrors, or basic set-dressing. That gating isn’t just contextual gates, either. And while actual gates make sense, there are areas of maps that have five-metre thick invisible walls it seems. And sure, gating is a massive part of every Resi experience, it’s just that here it feels more heavy-handed than ever before. From a story execution and cut-scene perspective this is as close to on-rails as the series has been since the Redfield sequences of RE6.
So, what’s new?
"They at least seem less “mutated experiment gone wrong” (errr *gulp*), and more in keeping with the expanded fantastical push for “more outlandish and out there, is more better”...”
The monsters here are refreshingly ‘clean’, for lack of a better word. They at least seem less “mutated experiment gone wrong” (errr *gulp*), and more in keeping with the expanded fantastical push for “more outlandish and out there, is more better” that seems to have come from Capcom higher-ups. They also can be pretty tough, and gradually get stronger the deeper into the game you go. And like many of the games before it, once safely cleared areas never always are, and so the game’s threat level does remain ever-present.
There’s also just a lot more story. This is a fittingly expansive part of the newer experience, exemplified in how Capcom has leveraged RE Engine
with newer machines and PC tech. In particular, facial animations and lip-syncing here are just next-level. I’ve never been so scared of babies and beautiful 9ft-tall women while being so enamoured at their expressive selves, in a videogame before. Moreover, the texture palette and clever use of small amounts of colour contrasted against the very black and white world of Village’s playspace is an artful way to not just show off the engine’s capabilities where things like lighting, particles and detailing opportunities are concerned. Playing on PS5 we did get a handful of frame drops here and there, but nothing that bucked the experience. And on an 8K TV like our Samsung Q950TS
, it is the immediate poster child for gaming in 8K, at least in upscaled form.
"My personal response would be: “nah, third-person next time, pls”...”
While not new since the last game, we are back in first-person again for Village which is still a fresh perspective for the series overall. What makes the first-person camera unique here is because of its Resi 4 nods and borrows. In some ways this feels like a “what if Resident Evil 4 was in first-person?” question, answered. But my personal response would be: “nah, third-person next time, pls”.
It’s not bad, and you can upgrade to be a bit quicker and more responsive, but Ethan feels weak and sluggish all the time, even though he’s pretty durable throughout. It definitely helps from an art-direction and design perspective, but Resident Evil just feels better in third-person. That being said, the shooting here is fine, and not at all twitch. Nor is that needed, the game’s dangers and impediments reflect its pacing. And on that front, where any survival horror is concerned, we’re always happy for slow and steady to win the race.
"There’s some stuff that happens inside the first 20 minutes that is jarring, but lacks any form of emotive and relatable response from Ethan...”
I railed against it, and for it earlier. Story-wise, it’s hard to swallow a lot of the setups throughout, and Ethan remains the series’ weakest character in this writer’s opinion. His sense of urgency is as forced as having us believe in fairytales coming to life, living in backwater country Europe somewhere and everyone
being okay with that. There’s some stuff that happens inside the first 20 minutes that is jarring, but lacks any form of emotive and relatable response from Ethan, and then there’s my problem with his hands… it’s just that... well, you’ll see.
Resident Evil Village is a true Resi experience that doesn’t so much up the ante as it just tangentially offers: “what if?” within the Resident Evil narrative universe. It is wonderfully paced, stunning to gawk at and features all the right scares and atmosphere (fucking dolls). It just doesn’t care enough about setups and game-world context for the player. Agency feels buckled up in the backseat while Capcom drives, showing you this and that, in the ways in which they
want you to see it, not really ever letting you experience it for yourself.
Still, as an entire experience there is a lot on offer, and the game encourages multiple playthroughs with a number of difficulty settings, Mercenaries, Treasures and more to find and unlock. I wasn’t wholly sold on werewolves and vampires and fairytale zombies initially, but as I progressed through the game, my inner cryptozoologist emerged and I just left all scepticism at the gate and enjoyed the game for what it is: more outlandish and out there.
Except for goddamned dolls.